2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Merge Records MRG 523 LP CD FLAC and MP3 Time: About 43 minutes
1) Lucia 2) Saturday’s Song 3) Mahogany Dread 4) Day O Day (A Love So Free) 5) Lateness of Dancers 6) I’m A Raven (Shake Children) 7) Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses) 8) Southern Grammar 9) Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song) 10) Drum
I got to know Hiss Golden Messenger’s (M. C. Taylor) music after perusing the online catalog of Tompkins Square, where I had purchased William Tyler’s solo album Behold The Spirit (prior to his Merge Records release Impossible Truth). I ordered the HGM album Poor Moon, and that was all it took for me to go off hunting for more, which led me to his 2013 album Haw (on Paradise of Bachelors) and ultimately to his first complete album Bad Debt, recorded in his kitchen shortly after the birth of his son in 2009. There are overtones of concern in that album, since it was created as the global economic crisis was hitting financial markets and was having tangible effects on people. It took Bad Debt a long time to see the light of day due to a warehouse fire during the London riots a few years back—most of the original CDs were lost. Amanda Petrusich has a brief essay about Taylor at the Merge Records link above, and it will give further insight on the roots of his music and her impressions.
Lateness of Dancers is quieter and a bit slower in pace compared to Haw and the recording is more intimate, even introspective with some of the qualities of Bad Debt. It includes some musicians from the previous albums along with primary collaborator Scott Hirsch (most often on electric and bass guitars) and William Tyler. Taylor’s songs appear to be largely personal self-reflections, laments on vulnerability, restrained joy, explorations of faith and optimism. This album sounds to me like it’s rooted in the early to mid-1970s in sound.
Taylor’s voice is at times like a melodic version of Bob Dylan as on Lucia, which has a gentle sway to it (as do other songs on the album). I immediately felt like I was back in the early 1970s during Saturday’s Song (a time when I listened to albums for hours on end). Saturday has a Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes vibe to it and is instantly familiar and comfortable. The spirit of Mick Fleetwood was present for the back beat of Mahogany Dread along with an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (for those of us old enough to remember!). No doubt, Taylor’s son’s voice opens Day O Day (A Love So Free) with his self-assured proclamation (present in younger children) of the song’s title. It’s quiet and contemplative and the subtitle gradually becomes an incantation of joy. Lateness of Dancers is one of the more serious sounding tracks on the album, the other being Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song), which is revealing and very contemplative. I’m a Raven (Shake Children) growls with a heavy beat and is a contrast to the slow-dance quality of Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses). Southern Grammar channels a gentler (yet still funky) version of Lowell George and Little Feat of the Dixie Chicken era (oh, how I miss Lowell George).
The album ends with a lightly orchestrated version of Drum (that first appeared on Bad Debt) and it has the spirit of a recessional, and it sounds hopeful “I’ll rise in the morning, take the good news and carry it away…” Lateness of Dancers is good news indeed, and it seems like Hiss Golden Messenger has landed at a good spot with Merge, where his work will hopefully get to a wider audience, and they will let M. C. Taylor continue unencumbered to do what he does best: write thoughtful and beautifully crafted songs.
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
I think I’m ready for Spring, but since that’s expecting too much at this point I’ll just stick to what’s spinning here lately…
Tompkins Square Records – Imaginational Anthem Volumes 1 to 5 (boxed with William Tyler’s Elvis Was A Capricorn, live performances) and Volume 6 (Tompkins Square TSQ 2790 and 2851): I purchased this on intrigue after a few other TSQ label purchases and upon learning that Hallock Hill’s Tom Lecky had a piece on Volume 5. It’s a wide-ranging collection of mostly acoustic guitar (American Primitive “fingerstyle”) works by some musicians well known (Max Ochs, John Fahey, James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, William Tyler, Daniel Bachman and Robbie Basho) and others more obscure. The WT live CD is a bonus in the box, which is not sold separately—his wizardry is hypnotic. Volume 6 has 14 historic recordings transferred from 78s. It’s a really fascinating collection.
Robert Rich – Morphology (Anodize AD 1304): After really enjoying Rich’s last CD Nest, I thought I’d try this 2010 live recording (released in 2013). At some sections it’s more rhythmic than Nest, but this again takes me back to the Modular Moog days of Tangerine Dream’s double live album Encore. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and take a ride.
Lambchop – Nixon (MRG175): This is a reissue of the 2000 release to help celebrate Merge Records’ 25th anniversary. I opted for the CD, which includes a second CD White Session 1998 “How I Met Cat Power” recorded in 1998 (Lambchop “represented” by Kurt Wagner on vocals, tape loops and guitar recorded for Radio France). Gone is the jewel box of the original and everything is contained in a double gate-fold sleeve with enhanced artwork. This album was my introduction to Lambchop and the 5 track bonus CD (with 4 tracks from Nixon and The Saturday Option) is like having a private concert by Kurt in your living room.
The 78 Project – Volume 1 (http://The78Project.com – 78P-001): Somewhat like the Black Cab Sessions, this is the first of what looks like many forthcoming albums, most of the songs are traditional, recorded in one take on one blank lacquer disc on a 1930s vintage Presto direct-to-disc recorder working at 78 RPMs in full ruby-cut monaural with ambient noise and all. Artists on this first volume include Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal, Marshall Crenshaw and 9 others. The LP is mastered for 33-1/3 RPM. Old school and a fascinating concept.
Porya Hatami – Shallow (Tench TCH 06): Recorded in Sanandaj Iran, Hatami’s latest album is a gorgeous instrumental work with three extended pieces (Fen, After The Rain and White Forest) of field recordings, loops and minimal instrumentation that are hypnotic, peaceful and produce a strong sense of place, and an escape.
The Autumn Defense – Fifth (Yep Roc YEP-2354): The core of the band is still Wilco’s Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt and this album for the most part picks up where their last album Once Around left off—well crafted songs with a relaxed but catchy vibe (some feel like they’re from the 60s and some could be from the 70s–make me think of Graham Gouldman’s work.)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon and Bad Debt (Tompkins Square 2660 and Paradise of Bachelors PoB-11): I got to HGM by poking around in TSQ’s back catalog and that led me to these two albums by the core of M. C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch (the latter being a reissue of Taylor penned and recorded songs which were a reaction to the 2008 financial crisis). Stark at times, but I was immediately drawn into the genuine nature of the lyrics and roots-like instrumentation and arrangements. Real solid albums and I’m looking forward to their 2013 album Haw when it arrives.
Steven R. Smith – Tableland (Emperor Jones EJ35CD website: http://www.worstward.com/): Smith has a number of musical personas and in addition to music he is an instrument builder and print maker. I’m most familiar with one of his aliases, Hala Strana (that work is more eastern European and traditionally-rooted). Tableland is a (sadly, this 2001 CD is out of print, but download is available here: http://worstward.bandcamp.com/album/tableland) haunting and somewhat moody collection of largely electric guitar-based soundscapes that could easily be a soundtrack for a roadtrip to a long forgotten territory.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (Blue Note Records B00195t202): Some musicians and artists with well-known predecessors often have periods of distancing themselves from those strong roots, breaking away to establish themselves. Rosanne Cash (whose dad was Johnny Cash) and John Leventhal have produced a beautiful album of songs tracing RC’s memories and influences that have gradually resolved with time and understanding of the struggles of humble beginnings and the trials of fame. The song Night School is stunning. Get the CD version with the bonus tracks.
Ben Lukas Boysen – Gravity (Ad Noiseam ADN168CD): The striking cover illustration drew me into the wake of this album and Boysen’s placid rhythms and harmonious aura suspended time.
Harold Budd – Avalon Sutra (Darla DRL 285): This is a completely remastered (by sound engineer Bradford Ellis, who has worked with Budd for 30 years) reissue of the Samadhisound double CD that was first released in 2004 (often referred to as Harold Budd’s last album before he retired from composing and recording—lucky for us it was a false alarm!). This double CD has new artwork and photographs, and the recordings have greater depth and clarity.
Harold Budd & Jane Maru – Jane 1-11 (Darla DRL 287): This is a two disc CD and DVD video release. The CD is the same as DRL281, and the second disc includes video companions (by artist Jane Maru) to each of the tracks on the album. Some of the videos are a very light touch with minimal effects and others explore colors, depth of field, transformation and the passage of time. I wrote last year about this very special Harold Budd album. Jane Maru did the cover artwork for this and the original CD release—she also does some really wonderful batiks.
And let’s not forget a favorite of mine – Kraftwerk!
I’m ready for the Spring Thaw! Happy listening.
Merge Records CD MRG465 – Time: About 54 minutes
Tracks: 1) Country Illusion, 2) The Geography Of Nowhere, 3) Cadillac Desert, 4) We Can’t Go Home Again, 5) A Portrait Of Sarah, 6) Hotel Catatonia, 7) The Last Residents Of Westfall, 8) The World Set Free
I posit that William Tyler is a thinker, and is perhaps more comfortable expressing himself with music than with words (although his spoken thoughts on the Merge teaser video have a distinct and interesting clarity). Tyler has worked in a number of bands prior to his solo albums including the Silver Jews, the ongoing experimental collective Hands Off Cuba and Lambchop (in addition to his record label, Sebastian Speaks). Tyler’s work brings a wide range of colors and moods to Lambchop’s sound, where he has been a principal guitarist for many years. Impossible Truth seems to me to be a more cohesive and mature work than his last solo album on the Tompkins Square label, Behold The Spirit. Nonetheless, I urge readers to seek out this very strong album.
The titles of the tracks on this album are like the names of short stories, and from the moment the cord is pulled on the first note of a track we are thrust right into the middle of the scene, without shyness or any lack of confidence. It almost feels like Tyler propels a well-worn yet vibrant flywheel at the start of each piece, and from that moment he is shaping and sculpting the sound and mood until the story is told.
Country Of Illusion starts mysteriously and sounding rather exotic (as if from a foreign land, sitar-like). There are sweeping passages envisioning a changing scene and then there are pauses (almost like a moment of contemplation) before moving through a sonic curtain and then the next passage of the tale. Some tracks show a greater tenderness (with solo acoustic guitar) than others like We Can’t Go Home Again or A Portrait Of Sarah (although musically the latter is quite adventurous, as are many relationships). The Geography Of Nowhere has a resonant otherness of being on the edge of consciousness and sensing the tangible without being able to actually reach it. There are others like Cadillac Desert and Hotel Catatonia that present vistas as broad and intense as a Montana sky (and I never knew what a big sky looked like until I saw one). The fretwork, picking and phrasing are tracing the landscapes and wrapping the listener in the gentle or gusty breezes of sound.
The Last Residents Of Westfall sounds like a scene from a dying or deserted town as the music pans to each of the buildings in the village, all with their own story to tell, some jaunty and others subdued. The closing track of the album, The World Set Free is the most reflective, but it enlivens joyfully as the track progresses—the acoustic bass being a steady and forthright heartbeat, and finally William Tyler releases to a growling close. I am trying to resist comparisons, but the opening section is similar to the instrumental sections of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
Tyler disguises his guitars as many different instruments, and his musicianship and intense fingerings give a sense that more than one set of hands is at work, yet there is never a sense of Tyler playing a guitar hero—my guess is that he sees himself as quite the opposite. Just like Lambchop, William Tyler blurs the distinction of musical genres; first this is an instrumental acoustic and electric guitar album, there are hints of twang, country and roots in it, but also some blues, folk and rock and roll. Merge Records has a wide ranging catalog of musicians and has been around for more than two decades. I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed their biography of the first twenty years of Merge, Our Noise. Even though William Tyler has been part of the Merge family for many years in his work with Lambchop, I’m thrilled that he has released this latest brilliant solo album with Merge. This is an album that I highly recommend.
Merge Records just posted this reinterpretation (homage?) to the film Two Lane Blacktop with A Portrait of Sarah as the soundtrack.
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
My photo of Kurt Wagner of the band Lambchop taken at La Poisson Rouge in NYC on April 19, 2012. This photo was used in Spin Magazine’s Concert blog. It was a concert of inexplicable beauty and musicianship–very memorable. An even more memorable night, because I had a chance to meet F. M. Cornog (aka East River Pipe) and his lovely wife, Barbara Powers. Photo Copyright by wajobu (please use only with permission and credit—thank you).
I have many other photos from that concert if anyone is interested in seeing them.
So many great songs that night, but My Blue Wave was right up there…
I’m slowly working my way back to a stack of LPs that I have been avoiding due to the summer heat. My main turntable is connected to a pair of tube amps, and in hot weather tube output only makes a warm room…hot! So, time to move a “sand amp” into place until cooler weather. Here’s what I’m spinning:
Kink Gong – Xinjiang: An “ethno electronic collage” with incredible field recordings combined with electronics recorded by Laurent Jeanneau in China. Jeremy Bible at Experimedia recommended this in one of his (what I now call “dangerous Friday e-mails”). Available at: http://www.experimedia.net/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&products_id=5182
Hands Off Cuba – Volumes of Sobering Liquids: More sound experiments from a number of musicians who have worked in Lambchop over the years. Available at: http://www.sebastianspeaks.com/
William Tyler – Behold the Spirit: Long time guitarist with Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba, this is William Tyler’s latest solo work. Available at: http://www.tompkinssquare.com/william-tyler.html A short film on the release is here:
Jonas Munk – Pan: I know Jonas Munk’s work mostly from Manual (Confluence, I think is the best album under that moniker). Available at: http://www.elparaisorecords.com/content/jonas-munk-pan-cd
Mark Fosson – Digging In The Dust: Taken from the long lost home demo recordings of 1976 after Mark Posson had just acquired a 12 string guitar; even the final version of this recording was shelved and went unreleased until 2006 as The Lost Tokoma Sessions on Drag City Records. Available at: http://www.tompkinssquare.com/mark-fosson.html You can stream the record here: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/audio/mark-fosson-digging-dust-exclusive-stream